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Performative Patriotism

I think we've now hit the point where we can safely say that this whole flag business is getting out of hand.

Yesterday's brouhaha over the size of Robert Jenrick's flag is merely the latest example of increasingly hysterical cloth-based discourse, it's been rumbling for a while, and I find it all a little baffling.

It's caught me  quite off-guard. Growing up in the seventies, eighties and nineties,the flag wasn't something you thought about very much. It was a fact of life,but you didn't wrap yourself in it. Overt patriotism was nothing to be proud of, in fact, it was a touch embarrassing. We used to mock Americans for their loudly proclaimed allegiance to their country, it's just not the sort of thing that's done, dear boy. The only time you saw flags being waved was the last night of the Proms, or news footage of some perfectly pleasant European town being comprehensively smashed up by football hooligans.

Even when there was a Britpop led revival, it was still a bit tongue in cheek, a nod and a wink, Austin Powers; Cool Britannia, while an awful phrase, was still about a nation at ease with itself, one that could use the flag, or not, not arsed.

Safe to say that's changed.

The 2012 Olympics,that last little outburst of national pride before we turned into the world's favourite punchline, was marked by the indelible image of the future PM waving a pair of flags when he got stuck on a zip-wire. It was a foretaste of things to come.

Now you're no-one if you haven't got a pair of crossed Union Flags in every room (or Jack, if you prefer.The long cherished pub bore's contention that the Union Jack is a naval signal only has withered in the face of everyone ignoring it, and vexillologists* cheerfully accept both). Politicians compete to be surrounded by as much red white and blue as humanly possible, Keir Starmer goes flag mad in an attempt to keep up with the Tories, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson's new throne room TV studio has Emperor Palpatine style drapes, even those MPs who haven't been able to get to the flag shop (Flags R Us? Flag-U-Like?Any of the shops in the Flag Quarter, really) what with lock-down have felt the need to put some Union flag bunting up when they've Zoomed in to the Commons. 

So when Charlie Stayt light heartedly mocked the size of Jenrick's flag, he wasn't, as it turns out, reading the room, well, not for some at any road. Outrage erupted in the easily outraged, and his co-host Naga Munchetty had to apologise for giggling. Quite why the permanently furious chose to train their ire upon a brown woman rather than the white man who made the joke is, of course, a complete mystery. As is the fact that none of them appeared to notice that Honest Bob's flag was upside down, so he either hates the Queen or was signalling that he was in distress. And so yet another front in our forever culture war opened up. 

All quite tiring, isn't it?

Where it took a turn for the even nastier was when the Conservative MP for Great Grimsby, Lia Nici, who is not noted for being one of Parliament's great thinkers, opined thusly: 

"Of course if people are not proud to be British, or of our flag or Queen, they don’t have to live in the U.K. Perhaps they should move to another country they prefer?"

I see. We're at the "telling brown people to go back where they came from is perfectly okay" stage of our collective national breakdown, are we? Disregarding the fact that her lot have just made it considerably more difficult to do as she advises, and glossing over the obvious jokes to be made about cancel culture, this sort of rhetoric is worrying, and not only because it suggests that we're electing people who struggle to walk and breathe at the same time.

It suggests this populist lurch to nationalism is part of an overall strategy to get people to rally together; and that is generally only done when you've got something you'd rather people weren't looking at. In the same way that Johnson took Starmer's questions about the Government's Covid strategies as some sort of personal affront even as the death toll mounted, this sudden outbreak of flag-shagging is designed to deflect and distract. To avoid scrutiny and close down debate. If you don't believe in everything we say, why don't you fuck off to France?

Because while patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel, nationalism is the last refuge of the nut job. Wrapping yourself in the flag tends to mean that you haven't got anything else going for you. "My country right or wrong" has been proven, countless times through history,to be wrong.

*People who study flags. Who says this isn't educational?


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